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Miss Manners: Bride Shouldn’t Try to Control Guest Attire

Dear Miss Manners: My mother is 70 and plus-size, and the dress that she bought for my wedding is very elegant yet semi-plain. My fiance’s mother is driving me nuts because she would like to wear a ballgown that is bigger than my dress and has a large amount of jewels and gems on the dress.

I believe that she should look elegant and subdued to match my mother’s dress, but she feels she will look matronly. She wants to dress very fancy, but I believe that she is trying to purposely be the center of attention, therefore outshining my mother and also trying to pull attention off of me and onto her.

I know she wants to look good and she does look amazing for her age (51), but I believe this is not the appropriate place. I have talked to her several times and told her that I want her to look elegant and not brothel-esque. I told her no strapless and nothing with too much beading or sequins because she will make my mom look underdressed, and it will seem like the dress is over the top, and she keeps showing me the exact opposite.

Am I being a bridezilla or do I have any merit? How should I approach the situation?

Gentle Reader: By turning around. Instead of approaching, you should be backing off. As you are understandably worried about going over the bend, Miss Manners must tell you the danger signals.

One is believing that you are in total charge of costuming. You can set the standard of formality for your guests and hope for the best; you can state your wishes to the bridesmaids and hope that they consent. You may even be able to dictate to the bridegroom. But to attempt doing so to his mother is as impertinent as it is useless. She is an adult and will use her own judgment, good or bad.

An even worse sign is worrying that someone else will outshine you. There is unlikely to be an occasion in your life when you can be as sure of being the center of attention as at your wedding.

But is that really what will be foremost on your mind when you are being married?

Dear Miss Manners: My 62-year-old sister has the habit of pulling a book from her purse in any social outing involving friends, relatives, etc., and reading.

She has done so in the lobby of a theater while our group (which she organized) awaits a dramatic performance. She did so as my husband and I, along with several other family members, were en route to my mother-in-law’s funeral via a professionally driven limousine.

I consider her behavior the height of rudeness, ignoring everyone in her presence in favor of a book. And I’m a 66-year-old retired librarian! May I have your opinion on her conduct?

Gentle Reader: Why doesn’t she use a telephone to be rude, like everyone else?

Does she believe that books are presumably more elevating, and thus exempt from the rule against ignoring actual people to attend to something you obviously find more interesting? Miss Manners can assure her that no such exception is made.

Or does the lady claim that she has to keep checking the book in case there is an emergency in the plot (as there so often is)?

Dear Miss Manners: Growing up, I was blessed to have the good fortune of attending many live performances of different kinds of theater and music. My parents taught me about appropriate behavior for these events, like waiting until the end of a piece to applaud, or bringing cough drops with wrappers that don’t crinkle.

They also taught me that standing ovations are reserved for truly exceptional performances (which I have happily participated in on several occasions). For most concerts, I remain in my seat, giving hearty applause in gratitude for the performers’ efforts.

What should I do, then, in instances that I don’t think warrant standing ovations? I recently went to a business training in which the keynote speaker was given a standing ovation. She was a gifted speaker, but not extraordinary. Everyone in the room leaped to their feet in applause. I noticed I was one of the few people in the room still sitting. I felt like remaining seated was calling attention to myself and was attracting glares from others — as if my sitting was somehow declaring her training subpar. Thus, I stood too.

I realize that “exceptional” is in the eye of the beholder. I have seen/heard better performances than most people, so perhaps I simply have higher standards. So should I stand with the crowd, regardless of how I feel about a performance, or should I reserve my acclaim for what I find truly noteworthy? And where do children’s recitals fall into this?

Gentle Reader: To answer your last question first: They don’t. Contrary to human experience, children’s recitals and other amateur performances are considered social events because no one attends unless a personal relationship exists with someone involved. Unbridled enthusiasm is therefore expected.

Professional entertainment is in an entirely different category. Unless you are there as a guest (in which case, “Darling, you were marvelous!” is mandatory), you are a paying customer, entitled to an opinion.

Miss Manners would consider that applauding lightly while remaining seated would express the positive, but not thrilled, reaction that you described.

Dear Miss Manners: My mother and I have been debating the difference between a duvet, a duvet cover and a comforter. Our research has shown conflicting definitions. Would you be so kind as to enlighten us and settle this argument once and for all?

Gentle Reader: A duvet is a feather-stuffed quilt without a cover, a duvet cover is a slipcover for the duvet, and a comforter is a duvet with the cover already sewn on.

Got that? This has nothing whatsoever to do with manners, but Miss Manners is nonetheless delighted with herself that she actually knows the answer — and has someone with whom to share it.

Dear Miss Manners: I am the godmother of a lovely girl who will be turning 2. Her mother and I have decided that we want to throw her a nice casual party at a fall festival that includes hay rides, party favors, live music, a decorated gazebo, etc., for a reasonable price that I am happy to cover.

The cost of the party reservation does not include the cost of the entrance fee into the festival, which is $15 per person. Is it the responsibility of the hosts (my friend and me) to front the ticket cost for our guests? Or is it reasonable to ask the guests to take on this payment? I am a single 20-something young woman with limited income and my friend is a single parent. We are just not sure how to go about this with fairness and grace.

Gentle Reader: If the party reservation does not include the entrance fee to any of the festival’s enticements, Miss Manners is not surprised that the price is so reasonable. Unfortunately, fairness and grace will not be forefront on your guests’ minds if they are invited to a party for which they have to pay (and pay not insignificantly, since presumably no 2-year-old is traveling without parents).

As compromised as you and your friend’s financial situations may be, you are making the assumption that your guests’ are expendable.

No party invitation should come with an entrance fee (a lesson lost on most adults celebrating birthdays at restaurants by “inviting” guests to pay for their own meals). Miss Manners is afraid that you must find an alternate venue — perhaps someone’s backyard where you could create a similarly festive atmosphere? At 2 years old, the birthday girl and her friends will have just as good of a time — and their parents will have an even better one for not being charged for the fun.

Dear Miss Manners: The mother of a childhood friend is dying of cancer. I no longer live near this friend and have not been in contact with her since high school, but I always get news of the family from my mom, who still lives in the small town where we grew up. I am very sad to hear this news and have very fond memories of this woman.

Is it kind or selfish of me to write a short note to this woman to let her know she matters to me and that my thoughts are with her?

Gentle Reader: How it could be construed as selfish to let someone who is dying know that she is important to you, Miss Manners cannot imagine.

Dear Miss Manners: I am an American student studying for my doctorate in Great Britain and working in a bookstore part-time. Over the last year, I have been insulted several times at work because of my nationality and American foreign policy.

My boss says I am allowed to say what I wish to those who offend me with these small-minded remarks, but I can’t think of a response that will be polite and dignified. Can you suggest anything?

Gentle Reader: When your British boss suggested you say “what you wish,” Miss Manners fears he did not have in mind something polite and dignified. She is grateful that you do.

This is not a discussion that once begun, ends well. Even if you disagree with the American policy in question, it would be disloyal to endorse anti-American sentiment. Yet if you disagree with the customer, you will be called cheeky or rude, probably with an additional anti-American sneer. The best response is, “Can I help you find something?” accompanied by a chilly smile.

Miss Manners is written by Judith Martin, her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. You are invited to email your etiquette questions from www.missmanners.com, if you promise to use the black or blue-black ink you’ll save by writing those thank you, condolence and congratulations letters you owe.